* CAC underperforms as weak data weigh on Paris market
* FTSEurofirst 300 flat, but still near six-year highs
* Raiffeisen rallies after Q1 numbers
By Sudip Kar-Gupta
LONDON, May 22 (Reuters) - French stocks underperformed flat equity markets elsewhere in Europe on Thursday, as weak economic data weighed on France’s benchmark CAC-40 index.
The CAC was down by 0.3 percent at 4,454.97 points in mid-session trading. It lagged behind Germany’s DAX, which rose 0.2 percent to 9,713.70 points as it retreated from a record high 9,810.29 points last week.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index was flat at 1,364.58 points, still within touching distance of a six-year high of 1,372.81 points set last week.
The DAX outperformed the CAC on the latest evidence the German and French economies are diverging. French business activity unexpectedly shrank in May for the first time in three months while Germany’s private sector kept expanding.
“If the CAC does not hold above 4,500 points, the bears will be in with another chance of pushing it even lower,” said JNF Capital investment manager Edward Smyth. By contrast, Smyth said, the DAX may hit a record high of 10,000 points.
Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank was the best-performing stock in percentage terms on the FTSEurofirst 300 index. It rose 4.9 percent after posting first-quarter profits that exceeded market expectations. Raiffeisen also said it could soon pay back nearly 2 billion euros ($2.73 billion) in state aid.
Nomura analysts said Raiffeisen was sending out an encouraging signal of a recovery in its business.
European equity markets have also been supported by expectations the European Central Bank may introduce new stimulus measures next month to support the region’s economy, and by signs of corporate takeover activity.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index remains up by around 4 percent since the start of 2014. France’s CAC has also advanced by around 4 percent while the DAX is up by around 2 percent.
($1 = 0.7318 Euros)
Europe bourses in 2014: link.reuters.com/pap87v
Asset performance in 2014: link.reuters.com/gap87v
Today’s European research round-up (additional reporting by Francesco Canepa; Editing by Larry King)